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May 11th 2012 print

Tony Thomas

Grossly graphic gun-play in Goulburn

Our gun-man, “Percy” (not his real name), was among the 2300 subjects painstakingly screened and sampled for this exercise, and Percy made the final cut to isolate 35 sceptics.

Now that the 11 “death-threat” emails sent to climate scientists at the Australian National University are on the public record, we can read them with appropriate bemusement.[1]

Privacy Commissioner Tim Pilgrim was quite right to say there ain’t no death threats. But there are some four letter words and in one case, he says, an exchange that was intimidating and at its highest perhaps alluding to a threat, with danger to persons being only a possibility, not a real chance.[2]

I happen to be aware of the details about that exchange, and suggest that the person involved suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from prolonged patronising by the ANU climate academics.

Here’s No 5 email:

ANU Climate Change Institute.
Sent: Wednesday, June 02, 2010.

Dear All,

Looks like we’ve had our first serious threat of physical violence. It has come from a participant in [the] deliberative democracy project last weekend. One of the participants left early after he took exception to my talk about climate science…[Deleted’s] exact words were:

"Moreover, before he left, he came to the Fri dinner and showed other participants his gun licence and explained to them how good a sniper he is. Because he didn’t attend day 2 he will not be allowed to attend the final day. I will be notifying security to be on hand in case he turns up and causes a problem."

I think the final day is this weekend but I am not sure. Anyway, I’ve asked XXX to brief the VC [vice-chancellor] and the head of security ASAP. The latter will determine whether this should go to the AFP [Australian Federal Police] or not. [It didn’t]. But in the meantime, we should be careful about anyone we don’t know who approaches our offices.

First, some oddities:

The incident was a full year before the ‘death threat’ hullaballoo hit the media.

The timing of that media furore was during the Parliamentary hearings on the carbon tax; a couple of days before the “Say Yes” rallies in Canberra by warmist folk; and a fortnight before the “Science meets Parliament” event where 200 scientists were tasked by their organisations to rev up MPs against sceptic ‘misinformation’.[3]

Warmist blogger Graham Readfern interviewed the director of the ANU’s Climate Change Institute, Will Steffen, about the threats last week. Readfern reported: Shortly after ANU staff were moved, there was an incident at an ANU public engagement event where a climate sceptic who had been invited to attend had become frustrated. During an exchange, the individual had showed what he claimed was a gun licence to people sitting at the table, before claiming he was a ‘good shot’. The individual is understood to have left voluntarily.”[4]  I wonder, is that word “sniper” in the email just spin from an over-excited academic?

Was the gun-man “sceptic” who was invited to attend the ANU event, a high profile person? Normally such invitations would go to the likes of Bob Carter, William Kinninmonth or Garth Paltridge FAA. No, in fact this sceptic was just an ordinary Joe. 

Here’s the background: Dr Kersty Hobson, an Oxford University visitor, and Dr Simon Niemeyer, Senior Fellow, of the ANU’s modestly titled “Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance Centre” helped bag $378,500 in 2008-10 grants from the Australian Research Council.

The grants were partly or mainly to work out ways to browbeat climate sceptics towards sanity, or in academia-speak, provide insight into the scope for positive community behavioural change”.[5] The researchers still considered themselves under-funded.

They tell (nearly) all in their paper last January for the peer-reviewed journal, Public Understanding of Science. The paper is titled, “What sceptics believe: The effects of information and deliberation on climate change skepticism.”[6]

They conclude that warmist preaching should be tailored to particular varieties of skepticism, but it is tricky to identify them “and how would one test the various treatments?” they ask, in white-coat medical mode.[7]

They explicitly note a parallel between “genocide denial” and “climate denial”. The latter denial must be defeated so that “democracies [can] gain early consent for tough climate change mitigation measures”, requiring wide-ranging policy responses from strong leaders integrated over a prolonged period of time.[8]

The authors lament that a nation-wide ‘citizen’s assembly’ on climate change, proposed in 2010 by a high-level but un-named person (could that be Prime Minister Gillard?) had bombed out. But capitalist think-tanks like the Institute of Public Affairs remained at work ‘to actively frame public discourse about climate change’.[9]

Not being climate scientists themselves, Hobson and Niemeyer initially had to show that warmism is a true doctrine. A piece of cake. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in 2007 that human-caused warmism was ‘unequivocal’. Despite that, “a non-trivial modicum of doubt and skepticism linger [sic] in various sectors of society”. They cite public intellectual and ethicist Clive Hamilton for an answer: the lingering is because of “an organized social movement”. Flip to the paper’s citations and you find Clive’s 2007 book, Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change, all about greedy corporations and craven Johnny Howard.[10]

The project’s rationale was to round up citizen sceptics from around Canberra and Goulburn/Mulwaree Shire. Then hit them with three days of scary warming scenarios out to 2100, elaborated by famous ANU climatologists, and test their reaction before-and-after by questionnaires.

Our gun-man, “Percy” (not his real name), was among the 2300 subjects painstakingly screened and sampled for this exercise, and Percy made the final cut to isolate 35 sceptics. I envisage him as a grizzled Towrang grazier with crow’s feet round the eyes from watching the weather since 1960. He doesn’t sound like a Canberran, definitely lacks a degree, and perhaps has it in for ivory-tower wankers.

The researchers categorized the 35 sceptics into sub-species, as a zoologist might group various types of zebras. The sub-species became types A (12 present), Emphatic negation; B (21), Unperturbed Pragmatism; C (32), Proactive Uncertainty; D (15), Earnest Acclimatization; and E (32), Noncommital Consent.[11] The numbers add to more than 35 because of overlaps. There were 21 men and 14 women, including ten people aged 60-75.

The researchers’ hope was that after three days of warmist natter (viz. ‘deliberative processes’), even the most evil A’s would migrate towards least-evil E’s, who believe “Strong political leadership needed; Trust scientists; Adaptation is possible; Government should act; Climate Change probably dangerous.”[12]

Movies run the disclaimer, “No animals were harmed during the making of this film”. Our ANU researchers had to be wary that their herd of untamed sceptics might panic and stampede, knocking over tables of wine and cheese, injuring themselves and more seriously, trampling and biting their human guardians.

The risky step in the study was to discuss with the 35 sceptics the two scenarios about climate impacts within the broad Australian Capital Region in the next 90 years. These derived from the CSIRO’s OzClim model.[13] Strange, but even the Academy of Science’s 2010 climate bible says such small-regional predictions “are very hard to estimate”, and that’s putting it mildly![14]

If the 2050 OzClim scenario for Goulburn/ACT is super-scary, the 2100 scenario makes Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” movie look wussy. Animated maps show growing angry red blots of high temperatures and low rainfalls engulfing Marulan, Tallong, Towrang, Bungonia, Windellama, Lake Bathurst and Tarago. By 2100 Goulburn will have a climate roughly equivalent to Queensland’s Warwick, Goondiwindi and Cunnamulla. The farmers’ livestock and crop production tumbles 20%. Picturesque stands of redgum evaporate. Even by 2050 Goulburnians are beset by heat-caused heart attacks (up 38%), food and water-borne diseases, unsafe drinking water, food poisoning, reduced fresh foods and respiratory attacks from dust storms.[15]

All too much information for the herd, which included Percy our gun-man. As the email shows, he went AWOL for a day, turned up for the Friday dinner (as one does), flashed his gun licence while bragging about his aim, and was banned from the delights of Day 3 of the seminar. We get hints of the excitement even in the boring old research paper:

“For example, the individuals loaded on discourse A – who might be called climate deniers – were not moved by the scenario interview, and 2 left the deliberative process as they felt, in their words, they were not being listened to. Indeed, qualitative data from the interview and forum suggest that not only were these individuals unmoved, they became more dogmatic and belligerent, suggesting that public climate change communication strategies or interventions can unintentionally alienate such individuals further.”[16]

“What Figure 5 does not show is that of the 13 [severe] sceptics who started the forum, only 11 finished it. By the end of day 1, the 2 individuals uniquely loaded onto discourse A had left. While there is not space here to detail the machinations of how this happened, this is a significant point… There is uncertainty about whether public processes can attend to ‘deep’ differences (see Dryzek, 2005) that exist around such contentious issues as climate change. If it is the case that deliberation requires participants to personify the ‘free and equal citizens’ of deliberative democracy theory (Bohman, 2004: 23), what happens when, as Campbell (2005: 693) suggests, participants become ‘angry, confused, demanding, and uncooperative’?…In this case, the Emphatic Negators arguably came to the forum with little intention of embodying this ‘free and equal citizen’… [17]

“…Mention must be made of participant 1598: one of the few participants who stridently self-identified as a climate sceptic throughout the research process, including at the end of the deliberative forum. She talked about her spouse as a firmly committed climate sceptic, and through the forum repeated key sceptical storylines e.g. that the presence of debate and disagreement amongst climate scientists is proof of fundamental problems with their ‘story’; and the ‘evidence’ of global cooling from the ARGO Buoys adds further weight to such claims. The fact that the initial data from the ARGO programme – that did suggest ocean temperatures cooling – have since been corrected and show ocean warming was not noted or commented upon during the deliberative forum (see Schiermeier, 2007)[18]…It would seem that, for this individual in particular, the identity of ‘the sceptic’ has become ‘an important component of the person’s self-concept’ (Smith et al., 2007: 2728): and one that would be difficult to alter, in her own mind at least.”[19]

Sadly, the researchers concluded that any drift of the sceptics towards warmism, thanks to all the deliberative processes, was ‘rarely sustained’ and more or less no sceptic changed sides.[20]

They lamented that although some milder sceptics moved to least-evil E positions, a ‘positive’ result, it hardly seemed worth the huge time and effort spent on the exercise. “In short, if 2 hours seeing (at times quite challenging) climate scenarios for your local region, and then 3 days spent deliberating cannot dispel the myriad of forms of climate scepticism, what will?”[21]

Regrettably, this project never reached its intended zenith owing to the ‘lack of research funds’ and participants bitching that they were ‘surveyed out’.[22]

How nice, if gun-man Percy would now step forward and give his side of the story?

Tony Thomas is a retired journalist.

UPDATE: And “Percy”, actually John Coochey, did come forward  - here…

[1] Cleaned of their email clutter, I have made the texts available here…; see also See also ‘Death-threat’ fictions

[2] http://www.oaic.gov.au/publications/decisions/2012_aicmr12.html

[4] http://www.readfearn.com/2012/05/hate-campaign-against-climate-scientists-hits-the-denier-spin-cycle/

[6] http://jonathanstray.com/papers/What%20Climate%20Sceptics%20Believe.pdf

[7] ibid p14

[8] ibid p3

[9] ibid p4

[10] ibid p2

[11] ibid p7

[12] ibid p8

[13] ibid p4

[16] Op cit jonathanstray p13

[17] ibid p12

[19] op cit jonathanstray p13

[20] ibid p1

[21] ibid p14

[22] ibid p15